filtered for jan 8 2020
You could go read any one of a number of obituaries for Elizabeth Wurtzel, or you could read “I Believe in Love,” an essay by Wurtzel herself, with a remarkable introduction by Garance Franke-Ruta. I suggest you do the latter.
Many years ago I heard Don DeLillo give a talk, right after Underworld was published. During Q&A someone in the audience prefaced their question for him with a statement, proclaiming that that DeLillo was “the master of the serial comma.” The question that followed was entirely forgettable. The statement, though, stunned DeLillo into silence for a moment as he blushed and recognized himself in front of 800 people. As a fan of the serial comma (and DeLillo), I think about that moment not infrequently.
I thought about it again today, because in Franke-Ruta’s introduction to Wurtzel’s essay, she quotes a long paragraph from Wurtzel about “a giant earthen pit in the ground: the future NY offices of Netflix.” And I’m here to nominate a new master of the serial comma.
Here’s the start of it…
“I am intimate with the dirt,” she wrote of the Netflix pit. “It has infiltrated everything. It is all over me and under me. It is Love Canal, sewage from the Mississippi, cigarette butts, marijuana ash, slave remains, rats, mice, Three Mile Island, Mount Etna, Mount Saint Helen, Dust Bowl, Adam, Eve, serpent, Satan, Chernobyl, Berlin Wall, acid rain, asbestos, uranium, geraniums, 9/11, 7/11, Donner Party, bird beaks, pigeon claws, squirrel tails, gerbil puke, hamster wheels, insulation, Saran Wrap, Mason Pearson bristles, dental floss, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Mafia hits washed up from the East River, syringes, works, the residue at the bottom of the empty bag of dope…
…and it goes on from there for another 199 words, not one of them wasted. Adam, Eve, serpent, Satan is poetry. 9/11, 7/11 may feel obvious, but the turn from 7/11 to Donner Party is…delicious. There has to be a story behind gerbil puke because I didn’t know gerbils puked, even though of course they must. Not just any kind of bristles from just any kind of brush; Mason Pearson bristles. (“Naturally — it’s the best brush.”) It’s a run-on list of life, of death, of living in the city, of living in the world, of global history, of cultural history, of personal history, of biology. It’s value stripped (gold teeth, copper wire) set right next to stripper tips. It’s the body (sunburn peel, hangnails, cavities, skin, scabs, split ends) alongside the politic (Bataan Death March, Manila massacre, Boston Tea Party). It’s “love letters, promises kept and broken.”